Many soldiers have endured years of repeated deployments, which separate them from their families for long periods of time.
And although most deployed soldiers have internet access “down range,” family members of many junior enlisted soldiers often do not have computers at home to respond to email or chat via Facebook or Skype.
Operation Homefront, a non-profit organization supporting troops and their families, is responding to this need. On Wednesday, the organization donated 150 laptops to 3rd Infantry Division junior-enlisted soldiers and their families.
“We forged a partnership to help soldiers and their families stay connected,” said Brig. Gen. John D. Howard, U.S. Army-Retired, who took part in Wednesday’s laptop giveaway. “When the Vietnam War was ending, I told myself if I could ever do anything to make sure soldiers would never be treated like Vietnam vets were treated, I’d do it.”
In 2002, about 10 years after ending his military career, the 1964 West Point graduate joined technology solutions provider, CDW-G, as its Department of Defense business development manager and later as a member of its national board of directors.
According to Morgan MacDonald, public relations representative, CDW-G is a subsidiary of CDW LLC, which provides technology solutions to government, education and health-care customers. She said Operation Homefront is headquartered in Vernon Hill, Ill., where it leads more than 4,500 volunteers across 23 chapters, who have met more than 590,000 needs of military families since its inception in 2003.
“We’re a civic-minded organization,” Howard said. “We wanted to give back to our customers and at the same time do something tangible, to really stand behind the statement, ‘We support our troops.’ So about six years ago, we started Operation Homefront. Since then, we’ve given away about 1,250 notebooks to junior soldiers and their families.”
Howard explained that some of the laptops are not new, but all have been checked out, with software added so they would be compatible for social media. A few have had special software added to accept voice-activated commands for hospital-bound soldiers with limited mobility, he said.
He said Operation Homefront has already handed out laptops at seven or eight installations, giving away laptops to soldiers and their families in the ranks of private through staff sergeant. The soldiers and their families have to provide internet access themselves.
The organization receives financial support through individual and corporate donations, he said. For more information, go to www.OperationHomefront.net.
“I was an infantryman my whole military career,” said Howard, whose awards and decorations include the Ranger Tab, Combat Infantryman Badge, Senior Parachutist Wings, a Silver Star, Army Distinguished Service Medal and Legion on Merit. “(After two tours there) I was very much influenced by my experience in Vietnam and after the war. Indifference was the best a soldier could hope for as far as the way he was treated by society. I stayed in service, so I was insulated from most of it, but I knew about it.”
Howard repeated that he wants to make sure today’s soldiers get the respect and help they and their families deserve. He also said he plans to complete his memoirs, especially focusing on his service in Vietnam.
“I had a wonderful career in the Army,” he said. “If I could do it all over again, I’d do it.”